by Pete Janny, Sports Editor
Manhattan College is not known as a hotbed for baseball talent. Still, that doesn’t mean they don’t churn out professional baseball players when the opportunity calls for them.
The last player from Manhattan College to play in Major League Baseball was Mike Parisi, a pitcher from Huntington, New York. In 12 appearances in 2008 for the St. Louis Cardinals, Parisi pitched to the tune of an 8.22 ERA in 23 innings. He never made it back to the big leagues after that inaugural campaign but the symbolism of his arrival has given validation to the dreams of the next generation of Jasper baseball players.
In today’s game, the Manhattan baseball legacy has received a boost from three recent alums. Parisi may have already reached the end goal— appearing in Major League Baseball—but Joe Jacques, Tom Cosgrove and Fabian Pena are the present and future of baseball royalty linked to the college.
All three players currently reside on different rungs on the minor league ladder – an industry that has become increasingly hard to survive in thanks to a significant cut of minor league affiliate teams during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a textbook example of survival of the fittest that has made the journey for the trio of Jaspers all the more inspiring. And it’s an easy arrangement to remember: Pena in Single-A, Cosgrove in Double-A and Jacques in Triple-A.
A native of Cuba, Pena was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 25th round in 2018 and started this season in Triple-A Sacramento, where he hit two home runs. The rest of his time has come at Single-A San Jose, where has four home runs and 13 runs batted in across 26 games.
A three-time All-MAAC selection while at Manhattan, Pena left school after his junior year to pursue greener pastures in the pros. He remains third in school history with 58 doubles and 10th with his 18 home runs according to Go Jaspers. The Giants organization has a heralded catching corps starting with future Hall of Famer Buster Posey in San Francisco and then Joey Bart in Triple-A, with Pena primed to be a reliable depth piece for the organization for a long time.
Jacques, a 33rd round pick of the Pirates in 2018 who hails from Shrewsbury, New Jersey, has put the Pirates on notice with his ability to get outs in relief. He has compiled a 3.77 earned runs average in 2021 across 31 games for the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple-A team for the Pirates.
“I’m a sidearm lefty reliever which isn’t very common, so I just focus on being in tune with my body and mechanics,” Jacques told the Quad. “Being loose and athletic in my pitching delivery are two of my keys.”
Jacques’ path to Triple-A was a fast climb, getting a taste of three separate levels of the Pirates system in 2019 before earning the call to Triple-A to start the 2021 season. The one-year hiatus from minor league ball in 2020 was a chance for Jacques to reset and double down on his efforts to show he belongs in the big leagues.
“I really took advantage of the time I had to develop into a better ballplayer,” Jacques said of the pandemic’s blessing in disguise. “It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself when life puts you in a position like that, especially because every day counts in baseball, but I know this was the opportunity to take the next steps in my career.”
The revolving door of re- lief pitchers that has become common practice in the Major Leagues would benefit any prospect like Jacques. The long season—163 games to be exact—is a crucible for injuries and inconsistent performance that makes the demand for relievers even higher. Especially a struggling team like the Pirates will crack open their trove of talented prospects this September when rosters expand, although not to the extent of the full 40-man roster like past seasons, according to the Portland Press Herald
“I think about pitching in the big leagues every day and that won’t change until I get there,” said Jacques, who referenced the 2013 National League Wild Card game, a 6-2 win over the Reds, as an example of what baseball means to Pittsburgh.
Just as Jacques will be vying for one of a few roster spots with the Pirates, Cosgrove will be doing the same with the San Diego Padres, who have fallen out of contender status during the second half of the season.
Cosgrove, a native of Staten Island who was a 12th round pick of the Padres in 2017, has increased his stock expeditiously by putting together his best pro season in his fourth campaign. In 17 games for the Double-A San Antonio Missions, he has pitched to 2.18 ERA with 26 strikeouts to only six walks.
Cosgrove credits his new role as to why he’s making great strides in his first season against Double-A hitters. His mental preparation has also had an impact.
“I was hurt for a while and it made me just want to be out there and not be too concerned with results… I’ve been playing better because of it,” Cosgrove told the Quad. “I’ve also moved to the bullpen instead of being a starter which I think is a much better fit.”
The transition from starter to reliever is an adjustment for arm activity at first, but it’s one that Cosgrove seems to be embracing. He does not need to be the starting ace like he was during his time in Riverdale— still sixth in school history with 225 strikeouts—to still get outs and make a living doing what he loves. After all, baseball has been a constant for most of his life.
“I’ve always known I was going to play until I couldn’t,” Cosgrove said. “I didn’t necessarily always dream of playing professionally, baseball was just something I liked to do. It became a goal my freshman year of college.”
Besides just getting an opportunity, Cosgrove also learned new pitching strategies since joining the Padres Organization. In some cases, it meant defying convention in order to execute pitches better. “I am a completely different pitcher than I was in college,” Cosgrove said. “I would say the main thing is how I use different parts of the zone to attack hitters. I use the top part of the zone now, rather than the bottom which is how I was conventionally taught growing up.” Playing professional baseball is never always a smooth upward trajectory. The unknown of injuries, such as Cosgrove’s elbow surgery before the pandemic, and the need to make adjustments at your position is easier said than done.
But it’s hard work that is the engine behind it all, and a necessary lesson to pass down to those with similar dreams as you.
“If you’re good enough, someone will find you,” Cosgrove said. “The scouts that are hired to find players are good at their job and they’ll find you.”
As Jacques says “you have to believe in yourself even if no one else does.”
What else they’ll find is the small school that made it happen for you.
“Manhattan’s a great place and it’s good for people around the country to hear about it,” Cosgrove said.